Artist: Focusing on rural life in Schoharie county

Elizabeth Apgar-Smith’s Faithful Labors series of oil paintings show the chores and charms of life i

Elizabeth Apgar-Smith’s Faithful Labors series of oil paintings show the chores and charms of life in the rolling hills of Schoharie County, just west of Albany.

Her paintings are like a barn door left open, providing a glimpse into a world non-farmers seldom see.

But once you do, you find yourself emotionally engaged.

You can’t help but smile at “Teamwork,” a painting that portrays the welcoming licks two members of the herd give a newborn calf. Apgar-Smith’s talent as an artist, her respect for farmers, and her natural ability as a storyteller give a quiet power to her canvases.

And though you are looking at fine art, you are also learning about agriculture and what it takes to be the caretaker of crops and creatures. In the past four years, Apgar-Smith has created approximately 90 paintings focusing of various farming endeavors in Schoharie.

Exactly the right response

In the painting titled “The Beekeeper,” Apgar-Smith points to the frame the keeper in the painting is holding. She tells you it should be full of bees but only is half full because of some unresolved mystery that causes the bees not to return to their colony. You find yourself worried about Mark Johnson’s bees. And, you don’t even know Johnson.

This response is exactly what the artist hoped for.

“This beautiful valley has been a part of my life for 30 years,” the 55-year-old artist said. A self-described contemporary Romantic painter, an impressionist, Apgar-Smith said her art celebrates the beauty of the valley she calls home. “Farming is such a tradition here. I wanted to preserve that way of life on canvas,” she said. The idea was one she thought about for long time and in 2004 felt ready to pursue.

“I heard about the hard times farmers were having. About how their way of life was changing. My goal was to recognize the contributions of the farmers,” she said, adding that prospects for some farmers have improved in recent years as they’ve found a niche market in organic produce.

One of the paintings is of a farmer on a tractor harvesting a row of potatoes. “That’s Jim Barber. He invited me out early one morning. I went. It was pitch black out. He tossed me the keys to his pick-up and told me to follow him down the lane,” she said.

Capturing shapes

Barber drove a tractor pulling a potato harvester. He dropped it (mechanically) into the ground and “potatoes came bubbling up.” Sitting in the pickup truck, Apgar-Smith scrambled to capture “shape references” in a sketchbook. These quick drawings help her decide where the subjects in her paintings are placed. She also makes notes on the colors, warm and cool, where the light is coming from and where the shadows are.

Back in the studio, these are the tools she uses in her creative process. She prefers drawing over taking photos because “a sketchbook draws you in. I remember much more from a sketchbook than I do with digital images,” she said.

The finished painting titled “Digging Potatoes” captures the scene — Barber on tractor, the misty foggy blues and grays of the hills

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